Friday, January 30, 2009


P. Gregory Warden (ed.), From the Temple and the Tomb: Etruscan Treasures from Tuscany. Dallas: Meadows Museum, SMU, 2009. Pp. 357, ills. ISBN 978-1-60702-755-3. $45.00.
Reviewed by Jenifer Neils, Case Western Reserve University (

ALSO SEEN: EXHIBITION: "From the Temple and the Tomb: Etruscan Treasures from Tuscany." Meadows Museum, Southern Methodist University, Dallas, Texas. Jan. 24-May 17, 2009

It is somewhat ironic that as one enters an exhibition of Etruscan art, one is confronted by the ravaged face of the Greek hero, Oedipus, staring down from a sculpted pediment. But on further reflection it makes sense. With his arms raised heavenward, his blinded eyes and open mouth, he resembles a seer prophesying to his religious devotees standing before the temple. As the battle of Thebes rages around him and his sons are dying at either side, Oedipus is both a tortured king and a wise prophet. Both roles clearly resonated with the Etruscans, who were ruled by aristocratic principes and who excelled in the arts of divination.

Welcoming the visitor in the large upstairs gallery at the Meadows Museum on the campus of Southern Methodist University in Dallas, is a striking juxtaposition of this 2nd-century BCE terracotta temple pediment from Talamone framing a large 5th-century BCE cinerary urn in the shape of a woman (the so-called Mater Matuta from Chianciano) -- both major icons of Etruscan art. They herald the twin themes of this loan exhibition from Florence, the temple and the tomb. Etruscan funerary art is fairly commonplace, having been uncovered and exhibited in Tuscany since the era of the Medici; objects of a religious nature are rarer, but significantly more important since they reveal a great deal about the less well documented life-style, as opposed to the death-style, of these pre-Roman inhabitants of Italy. But this stunning exhibit does more than educate the public about Etruscan tombs and temples; it puts on display a vast -- over 350 objects in all -- array of intriguing works of art of various materials, scales, techniques, types of imagery, andfindspots , many of which have not been on display in Florence for decades. It is the most important show of Etruscan material ever mounted in this hemisphere, and it behooves everyone interested in the classical past to see it before it returns to Italy in May.

The exhibition was co-organized by the Meadows Museum of SMU and the National Archaeological Museum of Florence. The masterminds were Giuseppina Carlotta Cianferoni, director of the museum in Florence, and P. Gregory Warden, an SMU distinguished professor who conducts on-going excavations at the site of Poggio Colla, north of Florence (where this reviewer is a guest scholar). In the ground-floor galleries there is a didactic exhibit of smaller finds from that site, including the reconstruction of a terracotta roof and a votive deposit. The large exhibit was shown earlier in Madrid, but the Dallas version has been expanded with more objects, including the early archaic bronze statues from Brolio, which consist of a frontal draped female surrounded by three stately warriors posed as if in a stylized pyrrhic dance. While they may have functioned as table supports in antiquity, they now are excellent examples of the Etruscan artist's attention to exquisite detail and obsession with elegant elongation.

The main exhibit follows a chronological order from the impasto hut urns of the ninth century BC from southern Etruria to the second-century BC carved alabaster urns from Volterra. One could trace the evolution of another distinctive Etruscan object, the fibula, from its earliest bronze versions, sometimes enhanced with amber and bone, to seventh-century models in gold and silver with intricate granulation. The installation represents the height of Italian disegno. Objects are displayed in large, square suede-lined cases, which show them off brilliantly but also tend to compartmentalize them such that pieces pertaining to the same votive pit or tomb group are separated. Many striking pieces merit their own case, like a gigantic bronze trident from Populonia complete with its cotter pin on a chain which kept the three forks together.

The favored media of the Etruscans, bronze and clay, are well represented. Shiny black bucchero abounds in an amazing variety of shapes, including a plump bird on wheels. One finds typical bronze utilitarian objects like razors, tweezers, mirrors, fibulae, basins, strainers and a humble grater, but also unique pieces like a meter-long brazier with birds perched on the edge borne along on four wheels. Horses and birds were very much in the repertoire of early bronze workers, and bronze horse trappings and huge chariot wheels from various necropoli exemplify the Etruscans' fascination with equestrianism. Ivory was also clearly a favorite medium, and some of the most exquisite objects in the exhibit are made of this imported material, e.g., a pair of fan handles decorated with crouching beasts, a unique comb with gilded ivory decoration, a delicate hair pin topped by a griffin, and a Hellenistic-style sculpture of a deformed ithyphallic pygmy who shoulders a dead crane. This piece is appropriately set in a case with an Etruscan red-figure kelebe or krater which shows an earlier moment, a combat of pygmy and crane. Gold jewelry is prevalent, attesting to the great wealth of the Etruscans. One of the most visually spectacular pieces in the show is a gold diadem composed of thin leaves and repousse/ plaques depicting Scylla on a dolphin. A somewhat garish ring from Montepulciano, consisting of a blue and yellow carnelian set into a thick gold frame, recalls those worn by the overfed Etruscans lounging on the tops of their funerary urns. Both pieces are dated to the fourth century, when the Etruscan began to be overtaken by the stolid Romans, who considered them decadent. The only major Etruscan medium missing in this show is wall painting, for the simple reason that these are mostly in situ. However color is supplied by several architectural plaques preserving red and blue pigments, as well as an alabaster cinerary urn, that of Larth Cumersa loaned by the Siena Museum of Archaeology. Here a winged demon or Vanth is interposed between the sons of Oedipus whose wounds are spurting red blood; the painting of the figures' dark eyes and bright garments gives this relief a vividness and expressive quality lacking in the urns, that have sadly lost all their color.

For those intrigued by the Etruscan language there are a few pieces with inscriptions, including the famous "Magliano Disk" which carries an exceptional long text naming several deities. The names Menvra (Minerva) and Cilens (Selene?) are painted on a large terracotta antefix of the second-century from Bolsena consisting of two animated statuettes of these deities. Some deliberately crushed bronze helmets, found in a cache of 125 near the walls of Vetulonia, are inscribed with the name of a prominent family or clan Haspnas. Bronze hand mirrors, one of the most distinctive Etruscan products, bear incised names as well. The well known masterpiece from Volterra showing Herakles suckling at the breast of Hera, a scene unknown in Greek art, is inscribed Uni and Hercle. And naturally many of the cinerary urns have the names of the deceased carved or painted prominently on the fronts.

Numerous non-Etruscan objects attest to the Etruscans' vast trade network in the Mediterranean. There is a small bronze model of boat, typical of Sardinia. Corinthian and Attic vases are juxtaposed with Etruscan imitations; only lacking are the Attic imitations of Etruscan shapes like the Nikosthenic amphorae and kyathoi which would have demonstrated how the Greek market responded to their avid Etruscan customers. One vitrine showcases an array of small plastic perfume flasks including a pair of green faience locusts, probably from East Greece.

One of the ironies of this exhibit in light of the recent repatriations to Italy of archaeological materials which were presumably looted from their ancient contexts, is the absence of didactic labels explaining how and where these objects were deposited. As mentioned earlier, because of the design of the installation, many votive deposits or tomb complexes are divvied up among several cases, making it challenging for the average viewer to envision the original complex. Text labels would have helped immensely in this regard, even if they are somewhat distracting from the overall aesthetic appeal of the whole. Fortunately there is an excellent and comprehensive catalogue edited by Warden and published by the Meadows Museum. It is not simply a translation of the Madrid catalogue, as it includes commissioned essays from eminent American scholars: J. P. Small on the aesthetics of Etruscan Art, I. Edlund-Berry on religion, N. de Grummond on women, R. E. Wallace on language and inscriptions, A. Steiner on relations with the Greeks, and P. G. Warden on funerary contexts and what he terms the "social landscape".

Together with a symposium entitled "Learning from the Past, Partnering for the Future" held on January 24, 2009, which covered various topics relating to American archaeological projects in Italy, this entire venture was an ambitious undertaking for a university museum. SMU and Warden are to be congratulated for bringing the riches of Etruria to central Texas, and in so doing, educating students and the public about this unique culture which flourished for half a millennium in the ancient Mediterranean. (read complete article)


Pepa Castillo, Silke Knippschild, Marta García Morcillo, Carmen Herreros (edd.), Congreso Internacional: Imagines: La Antigüedad en las Artes Escénicas y Visuales / International Conference: Imagines: The reception of antiquity in performing and visual arts. Logroño 22-24 de Octobre de 2007. Logroño: Universidad de La Rioja, 2008. Pp. 800; 203 ill. ISBN 9788496487321.
Reviewed by Claudio Franzoni, Liceo-Ginnasio "Rinaldo Corso", Correggio, Reggio Emilia (Italy) (

Un'ulteriore prova della grande fortuna che stanno avendo gli studi sulla tradizione classica1 è costitutita da questo volume, che raccoglie un'ampia serie di interventi presentati in un convegno tenutosi a Logroño (Spagna) nel 2007, promosso dall'Universidad de la Rioja, dall'Università di Bristol e dalla Technische Universität Dresden. Il volume si articola in diverse sezioni dedicate rispettivamente alla ricezione dell'antico nel teatro (5 saggi), nell'opera lirica (4 saggi), nel cinema (7 saggi), nell'architettura e nella scultura (11 saggi), nella pittura e nella decorazione (9 saggi), nella pubblicità e nei fumetti (6 saggi); chiude il libro una sezione dedicata all'uso didattico dell'eredità classica (6 saggi).

Nella relazione iniziale Carlos García Gual ("Si se ausentan los dioses") propone un vivace percorso tra la letteratura classica e alcune riprese contemporanee (come Alessandro Baricco o Christa Wolf) sul tema degli dèi e della loro presenza (o assenza) nelle vicende narrate; l'obbiettiva difficoltà dei moderni dinanzi al senso del pantheon antico non deve impedire di cogliere l'importanza fondamentale del ruolo degli dèi nel pensiero religioso, nella cultura e nell'arte del mondo classico.

La prima sezione di apre con una relazione di Eleonora Cavallini ("Appunti per una performance multimediale di testi: i 'Dialoghi con Leucò' di Cesare Pavese"), che descrive una esperienza teatrale presentata a Ravenna (2006) e incentrata sulla rappresentazione di alcuni dei ventisette 'Dialoghi con Leucò' (1947) di Cesare Pavese; il resoconto diventa l'occasione per illustrare l'interpretazione dei miti greci offerta dallo scrittore italiano e i rapporti da lui intrattenuti con studiosi del mito come Mario Untersteiner.

Sofia Eiroa e Jorge A. Eiroa ("La Antigüedad Clásica en el teatro del Siglo de Oro: Rojas Zorrilla") analizzano la "Numancia destruida" del drammaturgo Francisco de Rojas Zorrilla (1607-1648) e inquadrano l'opera nel contesto del teatro barocco, con un particolare riferimento alla "Numancia" di Cervantes.

Ricardo del Molino ("La Antigüedad Clásica en la Nueva Granada: teatro revolucionario e iconografia republicana") mostra come fossero utilizzati temi, personaggi e riferimenti classici nella Nueva Granada (Colombia) degli ultimi decenni del Settecento e della Prima Repubblica (1810-1816): si tratta di spettacoli in occasione di feste, di dialoghi satirici, o di opere come "El monólogo o soliloquio de Eneas" di J. M. Salazar; molto interessante il testo in cui si descrivono immagini e iscrizioni delle medaglie emesse per commemorare una battaglia del 1811, con un parallelo tra Corinto e Popayan.

Filippo Carlà ("Il modello di ogni caduta: il V sec. d. C. nelle sue riduzioni teatrali tra XIX e XX secolo") sviluppa in modo molto convincente il tema della caduta dell'impero romano come paradigma della crisi epocale per eccellenza, della disgregazione e "della dissoluzione dell'entità statuale" (p. 101); si analizzano con grande attenzione alle relazioni con lo sfondo storico e con il corrispondente pensiero filosofico e storiografico opere teatrali di F. L. Z. Werner, A. Guimerà, F. Dürrenmatt e si studia con finezza il ruolo che in questi testi giocano i protagonisti, Attila, Galla Placidia, Romolo Augusto.

Irene Berti ("Mito e politica nell'Orestea di Pasolini") si sofferma sulla traduzione dell'"Orestea" (1959) da parte del poeta e regista italiano, ma soprattutto sul suo "Pilade" (1966) e sugli "Appunti per un'Orestiade africana" (1968); il profondo interesse dello scrittore per la cultura classica -- tema su cui ritorna anche A. M. Sedeño (vedi infra) -- non deriva da interessi eruditi, ma dall'idea che il mito antico possa rappresentare i conflitti che caratterizzano l'Italia del "boom" economico degli anni '60, in particolare quello tra la cultura del mondo contadino e la cultura consumistica introdotta dal neocapitalismo.

La sezione sull'opera lirica viene aperta da un'interessante relazione di Pepa Castillo ("La Antigüedad Clásica de los poetas cesáreos pre-metastasianos"); la studiosa prende in esame la tematica classica presente nell'opera lirica italiana, lo spettacolo musicale per eccellenza nella Vienna tra XVII e XVIII sec., prima dell'arrivo di Pietro Metastasio; per questo affronta le più importanti figure di "poeti cesarei", i letterati incaricati di scrivere i testi dei "drammi per musica"; con il ricorso a utilissime tabelle che di ogni opera a soggetto classico riportano anche il compositore delle musiche, l'occasione dei festeggiamenti e la data della rappresentazione, viene così descritta l'attività dei principali librettisti: Nicolò Minato (tra 1669 e 1698), Renato Cupeda (1695-1704), Pietro Antonio Bernardoni (1701-1710), Silvio Stampiglia (1706-1714), Pietro Pariati (1714-1733), Apostolo Zeno (1718-1729); il bilancio della ricerca è notevole sia per il numero delle opere individuate (75), sia per la varietà e, in taluni casi, la rarità dei soggetti scelti.

Carmen Herreros Gonzáles ("El Sila de Gamerra") prende in esame il libretto del 'Lucio Silla' scritto dal letterato livornese Giovanni de Gamerra, con sostanziose modifiche di Metastasio; il testo viene riassunto, si individuano le fonti classiche e se ne discute l'uso da parte del librettista in funzione della rappresentazione nella Milano austriaca (1772); vale la pena ricordare che lo stesso libretto, musicato in quella occasione da Mozart (KV 135), venne utilizzato anche da altri compositori nella seconda metà del XVIII secolo.2

Il titolo dell'articolo di Milena Melfi ("Excavating Opera: composers and archaeologists in 19th century Italy") promette più di quanto effettivamente contenga: l'autrice approfondisce infatti un solo episodio, peraltro di un certo interesse, quello di un'opera lirica di Giovanni Pacini, "L'ultimo giorno di Pompei" rappresentata a Napoli nel 1825; Melfi dimostra come il 'plot' (del librettista A. L. Tottola) e la scenografia fossero strettamente legati alle conoscenze architettoniche e topografiche acquisite negli scavi di Pompei dei recenti decenni.

Nel saggio di Ana Paula Fontao ("Lecturas románticas de un mito antiguo: Medea") si elencano i titoli di opere liriche che hanno come argomento la religione e i riti degli antichi tra Sette e Ottocento (p. 170), si fa una rassegna delle opere dedicate alla figura di Medea nel teatro, ma anche nelle arti figurative (p. 173), e soprattutto si analizzano due melodrammi, la "Medea" di Luigi Cherubini (1797) e la "Medea in Corinto" di Giovanni Simone Mayr (1813).

La sezione dedicata al cinema si apre con una relazione di Bernardo Sánchez Salas "(Ars gratia artis"), che analizza il film di M. LeRoy "Quo vadis?" (1951) in rapporto al precedente "Via col vento" ("Gone with the wind") di V. Fleming (1939) e al successivo "La tunica" ("The robe") di Henry Koster (1953); ma soprattutto l'autore cerca di inquadrare il film nel suo contesto storico, come rilettura degli avvenimenti della seconda Guerra Mondiale, ma anche come "spettacolo autoreferenziale" nella implicita esaltazione dei nuovi mezzi cinematografici (il "technicolor"): l'idea dell'"ars gratia artis" ("l'arte per l'arte") ricorre tanto in uno dei dialoghi del film, quanto nel simbolo della MGM, la casa produttrice.

Nella prima delle comunicazioni, José Antonio Molina ("A través del espejo: preocupaciones contemporáneas por la paz mundial en el cine histórico sobre la Antigüedad") si sofferma su due film, "Spartacus" di Stanley Kubrick (1960) e "Gladiator" di Ridley Scott (2000), osservando come in entrambi si proietti il punto di vista dei rispettivi periodi storici sul tema della violenza e della guerra.

Gabriella Sciortino ("Clio e la 'decima Musa': il Mondo Antico attraverso le immagini della settima arte") prende in considerazione i film a soggetto classico in rapporto alla prospettiva accademica da una parte e alla cultura popolare dall'altra, e si chiede in che misura la visione del mondo antico proposta dal cinema possa incidere sulla memoria sociale contemporanea.

Martin Lindner ("Small Gods -- (Halb-)Götter als Figuren des Antikfìlms") esamina le modalità con cui nei film a soggetto antico, dagli inizi del cinema fino a esempi recentissimi, vengono presentate le figure degli dèi e dei semidei; l'autore, appoggiandosi a un'aggiornata e utile bibliografia, segue la riproposizione degli antichi miti, ma anche le loro trasformazioni o addirittura le nuove avventure degli antichi eroi (ad es. "Ercole al centro della terra").

Oscar Luis Lapeña ("La Ciudad Antigua en el Cine: mucho más que un decorado") prende in esame il ruolo simbolico del paesaggio urbano (la casa, le terme, l'anfiteatro, il tempio . . .) nella rappresentazione cinematografica del mondo classico (ma anche di quello orientale e dell'Egitto); opportuni i raffronti, sul medesimo argomento, da una parte con la pittura a tema antico del XIX secolo,3 dall'altra con i manifesti degli stessi film.

Ana María Sedeño ("La tragedia en Edipo rey de Pier Paolo Pasolini"), dopo una rassegna dei film basati su una tragedia greca, osserva la tecnica cinematografica di Pasolini in relazione alla sua poetica, alla sua visione politica e alla sua idea di mito, per passare poi a una rapida analisi dell'"Edipo re" (1967).

Alberto Prieto e Borja Antela e ("Alejandro Magno en el cine") si soffermano su due film incentrati sulla figura di Alessandro Magno, "Alexander the Great" (1956) di Robert Rossen e "Alexander" (2005) di Oliver Stone, opere che vengono analizzate accuratamente in rapporto alle fonti storiche sul sovrano macedone; la seconda pellicola viene osservata anche sullo sfondo della politica estera statunitense degli ultimi anni.

Le sezioni dedicate alle antichità nelle arti figurative sono aperte da Silke Knippschild ("El prestigio del pasado: la representación de la Antigüedad como signo de poder en la Inglaterra del siglo XVII"), che riflette sul rapporto tra uso dell'antico e vita politica nell'Inghilterra del Seicento, soffermandosi in particolare sulle collezioni di antichità di Carlo I e di Thomas Howard conte di Arundel.

Carmen González Román ("Modelos e imágenes del teatro antiguo en los palacios del Renacimiento") discute alcune rappresentazioni rinascimentali dell'edificio teatrale antico e ne osserva il riflesso nella progettazione architettonica civile della stessa epoca, ma con un taglio piuttosto compilativo e, purtroppo, con un rado apparato bibliografico.

Christiane Kunst ("Paestum imagery in European Architecture") traccia la storia della scoperta dei templi di Paestum, della loro fortuna (specialmente in Winckelmann e Goethe), e, più in generale, della ricezione del dorico.4

Maria Elena Gorrini ("L'Afrodite velata di Mantova: nuove osservazioni") ripercorre le vicende collezionistiche della statua oggi nel Palazzo Ducale di Mantova -- arrivata da Roma nella città lombarda già nel XVI secolo -- e ne fornisce un'accurata disamina storico-artistica.5

Brigitte Ruck ("Kolosse und ihre grossen Vorbilder aus der Antike"), dopo una definizione del "colosso" in scultura, ne delinea una storia fino al Novecento, approfondendo l'esame di due esempi precisi: il primo è la statua equestre di Cosimo I in Piazza della Signoria a Firenze (1595), letta soprattutto in rapporto al Marco Aurelio capitolino; il secondo esempio è la copia dell'Ercole Farnese, alta quasi tre volte l'originale, collocata sul padiglione a piramide del parco di Wilhelmshöhe presso Kassel (1717).

Il titolo dell'intervento di Eduard Cairol ("Un jardín de estatuas sin ojos. El legado de la Antigüedad en la Viena Fin-de-siglo") deriva da una frase di Hugo von Hofmannsthal; Cairol analizza infatti con finezza lo sguardo della Vienna tra '800 e '900 sul mondo classico partendo da alcune opere di Klimt e, appunto, da alcuni testi di Hofmannsthal, in particolare la "Chandos-Brief".

In "Museums and Literature: Marguerite Yourcenar's Mémoires d'Hadrien" Rosario Rovira si interroga sul ruolo delle opere d'arte nell'elaborazione del capolavoro della scrittrice; particolarmente interessanti le notizie sui rapporti con gli archeologi (Raissa Calza in particolare) e sulle recensioni (negative) al libro da parte di Charles Picard e Ronald Syme.

Dolores Villaverde ("La Antigüedad como paradigma de la escultura gallega contemporánea") vuole dimostrare la presenza di elementi neoclassici in alcune sculture della Galizia tra Sette e Ottocento, tentativo ben poco convincente, a giudicare almeno dagli esempi riportati in foto: una cosa infatti è il classicismo pur presente nella cultura barocca, un'altra quello che si afferma nel secondo Settecento dopo gli studi di Mengs e Winckelmann.

José Mayor ("El vinculo del arte griego con los tratados sobre morfologia artistica") intende evidenziare il legame tra l'arte greca e gli studi di anatomia e fisiologia umana dal Rinascimento al XX secolo; si tratta però di un percorso tanto lungo, quanto poco incisivo e generico, come del resto conferma la scarsità dei riferimenti bibliografici.

Jesús Martinez Oliva ("Miradas transversales de la fotografia de desnudo masculino a la Antigüedad Clásica") studia il tema del nudo maschile nella fotografia tra XIX e XX secolo, osservando come il frequente richiamo ai modelli statuari classici serva a nobilitare tali immagini, ma anche ad attenuarne la dimensione omoerotica; accanto a figure ben note come quella di Wilhelm von Gloeden,6 si affronta il ruolo di riviste meno conosciute, come "Physical culture" o "Physique pictorial".

Isaac Sastre ("Iconographic Influences of Roman Aras in Early Christian Altars. Prevalence of Formal and Conceptual Elements in Hispania") presenta un lavoro ben documentato sul ruolo degli altari nel passaggio dal paganesimo al primo cristianesimo nell'area iberica; gli elementi di continuità a livello rituale e simbolico favoriscono persistenze tipologiche e iconografiche, consentendo anche il fenomeno del reimpiego;7 l'autore approfondisce alcuni casi di tali reimpieghi, osservando le possibili modificazioni alle decorazioni e al testo epigrafico originario.

Molto puntuale e ben documentato, il saggio di Carmen Heredia ("La recepción del Clasicismo en la Platería española del siglo XVI") traccia le lineea fondamentali della penetrazione del classicismo rinascimentale -- italiano prima di tutto -- in Spagna, soffermandosi sulla oreficeria e, in particolare, sulla lavorazione degli argenti. James H. Lesher ("Feuerbach's 'Das Gastmahl des Platon' and Plato's Symposium") legge accuratamente il "Banchetto di Platone" del pittore tedesco in contrappunto al "Simposio" platonico; sostenere però che "what 'Das Gastmahl' offers us is less 'Plato's symposium' and more 'Feuerbach's symposium'" è quasi un'ovvietà, se è vero che ogni artista non può che sottoporre a interpretazione le indicazioni che gli arrivano da un testo, da un medium cioè totalmente differente; lascia dunque perplessi l'attribuzione al pittore di propositi filosofici -- come "to offer a visual contrast of reason with desire" in una presunta anticipazione dell'opposizione apollineo-dionisiaco di Nietzsche (p. 488) -- a partire dagli scarti tra dipinto e testo. Inoltre, a fronte di un'analisi molto attenta del dipinto, ci sono conclusioni piuttosto prevedibili, come quella che Feuerbach intenda "to convey a sense of the nobility of the ancient Greeks"; sembra altrettanto normale, in quella data, che si voglia arricchire la scena di dettagli tratti dalla recenti scoperte archeologiche.

Francisca Feraudi-Gruénais ("L. - A - T: - L(awrence) A(lma) T(adema) und die Transformation antiker Inschriften oder: Wie funktioniert(e) "Antike-Rezeption"?") affronta con molta originalità il tema della presenza di epigrafi antiche nei dipinti di L. Alma-Tadema, tracciando una tipologia di differenti situazioni; il tema viene inquadrato in una più ampia riflessione sui meccanismi della ricezione dell'antico, che tocca anche, con vivacità, aspetti della situazione contemporanea.

Isabel Valverde e Marina Picazo ("¿La reina vencida? Cleopatra y el poder en el arte y la literatura") delineano i contorni della figura di Cleopatra nella letteratura europea dal Trecento in poi, in particolare nelle biografie delle donne celebri dell'antichità; quindi affrontano la trattazione degli episodi della sua biografia (il suicidio in primis) nella pittura dal XVI al XIX sec.8

José Maria Blázquez ("Mitos clásicos y naturaleza en la pintura y dibujos de Carlos Franco") descrive i miti classici (e i loro possibili riferimenti artistici) presenti nei dipinti di Carlos Franco, in particolare in quelli per la Real Casa de la Panadería (Madrid), ma anche in altri quadri e opere di grafica datati tra 1989 e 2007.

Antonio Joaquín Santos ("Ornamentos y figuración de origen clásico en la obra de los Ballesteros") prende in esame la ricezione di forme decorative classiche in opere dei Ballesteros, famiglia di argentieri di Siviglia, tra gli anni '50 e gli anni '80 del XVI secolo; tale ricezione è mediata dal confronto con modelli rinascimentali, in particolare incisioni di artisti italiani degli inizi del secolo.

Claudia Wagner ("A Picture-Book of Antiquity: The Neoclassical Gem Collection of Prince Poniatowski") descrive la collezione di glittica formata dal principe Stanislas Poniatowski (1754-1833), ricca di pezzi che illustravano il mito, passi omerici e virgiliani, personaggi del mondo classico: la raccolta, oggi dispersa, conteneva gemme di ottima qualità, ma di età neoclassica, spesso contrassegnate da pseudo-firme di incisori antichi.

Thomas Mannack ("The Ancient World in Miniature: Flat German Tin Figures of the 19th and 20th Centuries") illustra un gioco educativo infantile particolarmente diffuso in area tedesca ("Zinnfiguren") a partire dal tardo Settecento, le piccole figure piatte poggianti su una base: tra i vari temi si trovano figure di divinità antiche, ma anche episodi della storia greca e romana; dopo la I Guerra Mondiale le "Zinnfiguren" diventano oggetto da collezione e aumentano e si raffinano i soggetti legati all'antichità classica.

Javier Andreu ("La Antigüedad como argumento: su uso en la heráldica municipal de Navarra") studia l'uso della tematica classica come mezzo di nobilitazione civica negli stemmi municipali della Navarra dal XVII in poi; tra gli esempi è particolarmente rilevante l'"escudo" di Valle de Lana (pp. 585 ss.) in cui campeggiano il testo e le decorazione della perduta stele di Minicia Aunia (CIL, II, 5828).

Molto ben documentato e con preziosi rimandi bibliografici è il saggio di Marta García Morcillo ("La Antigüedad Clásica en el cartel político contemporáneo: de la Europa decimonónica a la Guerra Civil española"), in cui si illustra l'uso di motivi e allegorie classiche nella storia del manifesto politico, in particolare alla fine dell'Ottocento, durante la prima Guerra Mondiale, al tempo della Repubblica di Weimar, nell'Italia fascista e infine durante la guerra civile in Spagna.

Audy Rodríguez ("Les fêlures du miroir ou les dieux vecteur de mise en abîme. Modalités, formes et enjeux de la transmission de la référence antique. Un exemple: les dieux grecs") descrive alcune immagini di divinità greche in fumetti recentissimi, con un commento che da un lato prescinde dalla storia delle immagini, dall'altro sembra piuttosto generico; interessanti le riflessioni sugli dèi raffigurati in forma di statue e il confronto con la "Venus d'Ille" (ma il "Prosper M." della nota a p. 629 è Prosper Mérimée).

Adexe Hernández Reyes ("Los mitos griegos en el manga japonés") esamina il fenomeno dell'uso dei miti greci nei fumetti e nei cartoni animati giapponesi negli ultimi decenni; si tratta a volte di adattamenti ("Ulysses 31", una storia dell'eroe greco ambientata nel secolo XXXI), a volte di vere e proprie reinvenzioni ("Sailor Moon").

Pilar Iguácel ("Tartessos. El mito en lenguaje de cómic") illustra una serie di fumetti incentrata sull'antica Tartessos individuandone le fonti antiche e precisandone il linguaggio; interessante il caso di un personaggio modellato sulla "Dama de Elche".

Miguel Angel Novillo ("'Astérix en Hispania': realidad histórica o realidad caricaturizada") esamina minutamente alcune vignette dell'episodio del ben noto fumetto ambientato in Spagna evidenziando l'intreccio tra dati della storia antica e riletture in chiave comica.

Anna Pujadas ("Desplegando el peplo. Un ensayo sobre arte, moral, moda y danza") descrive sommariamente l'uso del peplo nella Grecia antica, per osservarne poi la rilettura moderna nella moda (Fortuny) e soprattutto nella danza (Isadora Duncan).9

L'ultima sezione del volume è dedicata alle valenze didattiche dell'eredità classica e si apre con una ricca relazione di Teresa García Santa María e Joan Pagès Blanch ("La imagen de la Antigüedad en la enseñanza de la Historia") sull'insegnamento della storia antica; gli autori partono con l'esaminare le riflessioni sul valore educativo dell'insegnamento della storia antica svolte in area francese, italiana e anglosassone, per poi affrontare con grande attenzione il peso e il ruolo della materia nel curricolo scolastico spagnolo e infine nella manualistica.

Fernando Lillo ("El cine de romanos y su aplicación didáctica") passa prima in rapida rassegna la cinematografia con soggetti greci o romani, quindi propone una serie molto concreta e dettagliata di percorsi ed esempi di possibili usi didattici di questi film.

Esther López Ojeda ("Lorca y la tragedia griega. El caso concreto de 'Bodas de sangre'") offre un confronto tra le "Baccanti" di Euripide e "Bodas de sangre" di F. García Lorca come possibile percorso didattico capace anche di facilitare la comprensione della tragedia greca.

M. Carmen Santapau Pastor ("La recepción de la Mitologia clásica en la escultura del Barroco. Aplicaciones didácticas") presenta una unità didattica fondata sulla ricezione della mitologia classica in età barocca, in particolare in Bernini, descrivendo due schede analitiche per guidare il lavoro di apprendimento.

Daniel Becerra e Soraya Jorge ("El cómic como elemento de atracción para la enseñanza del Mundo Clásico. Entre la literatura y la rigurosidad histórica") discutono il possibile uso didattico di alcune serie di fumetti ("Alix", "Asterix", "Tartessos", "Age of Bronze", "Murena") che hanno come sfondo l'antichità greca e romana.

M. Luz Husillos ("Publicidad y Mitología: su uso en el aula") presenta una veloce rassegna di adattamenti della mitologia e della cultura classica nella pubblicità contemporanea, valutandone il possibile uso didattico.10

Il volume, in conclusione, ospita interventi di livello piuttosto differente: accanto a un buon numero di contributi notevoli per approfondimento e originalità, vi sono lavori compilativi e scarsamente incisivi; non tutti i saggi sono illustrati come si poteva sperare e, in generale, la qualità della documentazione iconografica è piuttosto modesta. L'idea di riflettere sul tema della ricezione della cultura classica come snodo essenziale per la civiltà europea è comunque positiva, come è apprezzabile lo sforzo di osservarne le varie ramificazioni sia a livello geografico, sia nelle più diverse esperienze culturali, anche in quelle solitamente meno considerate sotto questo profilo. Del tutto condivisibile la scelta di riservare uno spazio apposito alle problematiche educative e didattiche. Ci si può augurare che nei previsti prossimi incontri la storia della tradizione classica venga affrontata con una più netta delimitazione cronologica éo tematica, consentendo così un ulteriore raffinamento della qualità dell'iniziativa.


1. Si vedano, di uscita recente: Charles Martindale, Richard F. Thomas (edd.), Classics and the Uses of Reception, Oxford 2006 (rec. Sheila Murnaghan, BMCR 2007.07.19) e Lorna Hardwick, Christopher Stray (edd.), A Companion to Classical Receptions, Oxford 2008 (rec. John Henderson, BMCR 2008.08.38).

2. Johann Christian Bach (Mannheim 1773), Pasquale Anfossi (Venezia 1774) e Michele Mortellari (Torino 1778).

3. A p. 235 "Thomas Coutier" va corretto in "Thomas Couture". Per quanto riguarda i registi, a p. 241 "Fracassi" e non "Fracasi"; a pp. 243 e 250: "Blasetti" e non "Blassetti".

4. Anche per questo aspetto era opportuno citare il bel saggio di Kurt W. Forster, "L'ordine dorico come diapason dell'architettura moderna", in I Greci. Storia cultura arte società. I. Noi e i Greci, a cura di S. Settis, Torino 1996, pp. 665-706.

5. Lo stesso saggio viene pubblicato dall'autrice, con lievissime varianti, col titolo "L'Afrodite-ninfa di Mantova", in La scultura romana dell'Italia settentrionale. Quarant'anni dopo la mostra di Bologna (Atti del convegno internazionale, Pavia 2005), a cura di F. Slavazzi e S. Maggi, Firenze 2008, pp. 195-206; cfr, anche L. Giordani, M. Oddone, Studio archeometrico del marmo usato per la statua dell'Afrodite velata conservata al Palazzo Ducale di Mantova, ivi, pp. 207-210. Alla bibliografia citata a p. 337, nota 31, va aggiunto: Antiquarie prospettiche romane, a cura di Giovanni Agosti e Dante Isella, Parma 2004.

6. Sul personaggio cfr. ora Wilhelm von Gloeden, fotografie: nudi, paesaggi, scene di genere, ed. Italo Zannier, Firenze 2008.

7. Su questo tema si veda ora Cristina Maritano, "'In altaria vertuntur arae'. Sul reimpiego dell'antico negli altari cristiani dall'età medievale al Cinquecento", in Prospettiva, 126-127 (2007), pp. 46-55.

8. Alla bibliografia citata va aggiunto Silvia Urbini, "Il mito di Cleopatra. Motivi ed esiti della sua rinnovata fortuna fra Rinascimento e Barocco", in Xenia antiqua, II (1993), pp. 181 e sgg.

9. Poteva essere utile anche un rimando a Linda Selmin, "L'americana scalza. Un inedito di Aby Warburg su Isadora Duncan", in Engramma, 34 (giugno-luglio 2004). Oltre alla bibliografia indicata, sulle danze antiche va citata ora Maria Luisa Catoni, La comunicazione non verbale nella Grecia antica, Torino 2008.

10. Si può senz'altro consigliare il ricorso alla sezione "Peitho e Mnemosyne" (e al relativo archivio) della rivista online Engramma. (read complete article)

Thursday, January 29, 2009


Marcelle Robinson, Schliemann's Silent Partner, Frank Calvert (1828-1908). Pioneer, Scholar and Survivor. Philadelphia: Xlibris, 2006. Pp. 700; maps 3. ISBN 978-1-4134-2916-9. $35.09. 978-1-4134-2915-2. $24.64 (pb).
Reviewed by Jan P. Stronk, Oude Geschiedenis, Universiteit van Amsterdam (

Over the years, since 1871, the finds in the settlement hill of Hissarlik (to the general public better known as Troy) in northwestern Anatolia have been linked to Heinrich Schliemann. Though Schliemann had nominally transformed himself from a businessman into an archaeologist, he had with respect to the exploitation of his work very much retained the tricks of his former trade. One of those tricks was to gloss over the memory of the man who introduced him to the landmarks of the Troad (and, indeed, the hill of Hissarlik), Frank Calvert. The book under review, written by Marcelle Robinson (henceforward R), is the first elaborate biography of Calvert, a pioneer of archaeological research of the Troad. Since 1993 R has published on Calvert, trying to restore him to the position he--certainly in her opinion--deserves. So far, this book is the culminating point of that effort.

The first 41 pages of this book consist of the preliminary matter: acknowledgements, author's notes, abbreviations, maps, and the Calvert family tree. Introduction and background are described on p. 42-51. Next R paints Calvert's life in 46 chapters (52-443). The appendices start with a (numberless) chronological index of Calvert's writings (444-6), followed by a (numbered) selection of mostly letters or papers written by Calvert (some in facsimile). The book closes with an elaborate index of place names (499-502), a selected index personarum (503-11), reference notes (512-639), bibliography (640-56), illustrations (657-80), and a (general) index (681-700).

The work by R is a detailed biography of Calvert (and wherever needed also taking notice of members of his family,) from the day of his birth (in Valetta, Malta on September 3, 1828) until his death (in the Dardanelles on August 12, 1908). As the title suggests, she pays special attention to Calvert's relationship--and the evolution thereof--with Heinrich Schliemann. The latter first visited Calvert in August 1868 during a tour he made through the Troad in search of Troy.

In 1845 Calvert had moved to the Troad, to the Dardanelles (modern Çannakale), where part of his family already lived and where he finally would become the U.S. consul. Already in late 1846 he had become thoroughly familiar with the region, where the family owned several pieces of property. In 1857 Calvert became the owner of a piece of 2000 acres of "good ground, including the site of Ilium Novum" (81) at Hissarlik. Later, (at last in 1864) he also acquired part of the hill at Hissarlik (apparently, based upon a letter to Schliemann early 1869, half of it: p. 120 and note 22) and started excavating there. It was not his first excavation: previously he had worked at (and published on) Hanai Tepeh, Colonoe, and Ophrynium. These publications show him as an efficient, methodical, and precise excavator. However, he did lack the financial resources for a full scale excavation of the hill of Hissarlik: the work he did, though, convinced him he had found the site of Troy.

R argues that Calvert easily convinced Schliemann, who had ample financial means, of his views regarding Hissarlik. From his part, Schliemann was eager to make Calvert believe that he wholeheartedly trusted his judgment. Both men agreed to resume work together at Hissarlik in the spring of 1869. Meanwhile, however, the Turkish (the denomination R predominantly uses instead of the more proper word Ottoman) authorities forbade "excavations for exportation of antiquities ... throughout the Turkish dominions" (119), which frustrated the attempt to start excavating Hissarlik.

Large portions of R's book are devoted to very detailed accounts of the key moments of the growing tensions between Calvert and Schliemann. The first moment already came in 1869 when Schliemann published his work Ithaque, le Péloponnèse, et Troie. Calvert received a complimentary copy, but cannot have been pleased reading the parts regarding the Troad. Another widening occurred in June 1872, when Schliemann deliberately transgressed the line of Calvert's land. Soon he found some marble slabs, including the so called Helios metope: these slabs presented a problem, since there was no firman (official permission for excavation) to excavate Calvert's part of the hill. They were, technically, joint owner of the metope--until the moment Schliemann bought Calvert's part for a relative trifle. Later Schliemann started his efforts to transport the metope to Athens, an effort that succeeded early August. Later that month Schliemann himself returned to Athens, where he expanded on the value (in meaning and money) of the metope.

In January 1873 Calvert published an article, concluding that Hissarlik had not yet produced any firm archaeological evidence of being Homeric Troy: "(a) most important link ... is missing between B.C. 1800 and 700, forming a gap of over a thousand years, including the date of the Trojan War ..." (168). He expressed the hope that Schliemann would be able to fill that gap in due course. Nevertheless, the article undermined Schliemann's claims, in which Calvert played no serious part whatsoever. Meanwhile Calvert learned that Schliemann had tricked him with the metope: he was not amused. Early June of that year Schliemann discovered the so-called 'Priam's treasure' in the Turkish-owned section of Hissarlik and smuggled it out of Turkey. The Sublime Porte started to investigate Schliemann's actions; meanwhile Calvert expressed his feelings that the treasure did not date from the days of the Trojan War, by lack of notably iron objects in the archaeological context of the find.

The next confrontation started shortly after. "In Antiquités Troyennes, which was published early in 1874, Schliemann not only distorted the facts but maligned Calvert both as a scientist and a human being" (199). The direct cause was Calvert's article on Troy. Calvert responded with a rebuttal published in two journals, ending with the conclusion that Schliemann's wishes determined his interpretations. By now, however, Schliemann's appeals had caught the public's imagination and Calvert's alarm at the archaeological damage caused by Schliemann to Hissarlik was growing, but without avail. Schliemann had by now reached the status he so desperately wanted in the public imagination, making it virtually impossible for Calvert to compete with him.

Though Schliemann supported Calvert for the latter's excavation of Hanai Tepeh and promised to publish Calvert's account of it as an addendum to Schliemann's next book, Ilios, Calvert practically disregarded most of his obligations towards the Hanai Tepeh paper and finally only sent his notes to Schliemann to make the best of it. Schliemann did so (see Appendix IV in R's book) and won Calvert an international reputation as a meticulous archaeologist. Several of Schliemann's observations on Hissarlik in Ilios were, however, rejected by Calvert, and he wrote Schliemann so in no uncertain terms. Notwithstanding this, when Schliemann finally received his new firman for further excavation at and around Hissarlik in 1890, he immediately approached Calvert for collaboration. Nevertheless, when Schliemann found some colossal nephrite axes (on Calvert's land): "[t]here is no evidence to suggest that he intended to share these finds with Calvert. A few weeks later, Schliemann was dead" (400).

Though one might state that the relationship between Calvert and Schliemann is the main theme of R's biography--in accordance with the book's title--, Calvert's relations with other scholars are also discussed in detail. Notably his relations with Henry Sayce, Paul Ascherschon (from Berlin), and especially Rudolf Virchow (also from Berlin), with whom he struck up a deep, mutual, and profitable friendship from 1879 onwards, are related in some detail. Regrettably Calvert's correspondence with Virchow between early 1886 and 1902, the year of Virchow's death is lost. A lot of Calvert's activities, observations, and ideas remain therefore out of our reach. What we do have are some notes to others, including Schliemann, and reports in magazines and papers, which lack the measure of confidentiality he had with Virchow. From these reports we infer that Calvert had access to the fruits of two illicit grave robberies, which were confiscated by state officials, but he was allowed to study and describe them (evidently a token of faith towards Calvert by authorities).

An important landmark in Calvert's work was the publication of an article on the Asiatic shoreline of the Hellespont, which, through Virchow, was published in German in the Zeitschrift für Ethnologie of 1880. It showed Calvert's scholarship and was well received. A copy of the same article was sent to England, to Henry Sayce, but this was never published: it is added to the book under scrutiny as Appendix I, published for the first time in its original language. It shows, in spite of the industrial activities that have marred the shorelines of the Dardanelles as the price for progress since at least 1968--when I visited the region for the first time and progress' damage was still held at bay--, the value and the accuracy of many of Calvert's observations.

Though Calvert busied himself also with other fields of knowledge, like geography, geology in general and mining in particular, botany (both for Ascherson and Virchow), and entomology (cf. Appendix III of the book under review)--and received credits for his achievements in these fields--his main interests, as R makes unmistakably clear, were archaeology and the collection of antiquities. Central in this passion, no matter how we look at it, was the site of Hissarlik and the figure of Schliemann. Schliemann's death ended a relationship of some twenty-two years that displayed some bizarre features. The site that primarily bound them, Hissarlik, lay now open and unprotected against stone robbers and treasure seekers, in spite of Calvert's requests with the responsible authorities to protect it. Schliemann's successor at Hissarlik, Wilhelm Dörpfeld, was unable to stop the destruction of the site, aggravated by the way Schliemann had "attacked" it. An additional threat became the ever increasing number of tourists visiting Hissarlik.

Calvert kept his distance from these tourists, because he was busy making an inventory of his antiquities. He did this initially together with Alfred Brückner, an assistant to Dörpfeld. The catalogue of Calvert's collection would eventually be completed by Herrmann Thiersch in 1902: I very much regret it that R did not (or could not?) expand more on the meaning of this catalogue and its content. Meanwhile Calvert followed Dörpfeld's work with great interest. After the latter's second season at Hissarlik, Calvert wrote a paper entitled "The Discovery of Homer's Troy" (Appendix VII of the work under discussion). In this paper Calvert stated that, though there still was sufficient material to explore, the results of the excavation of Hissarlik were now sufficient to claim that the existence of Homer's Troy had indeed been confirmed.

About his own discoveries, identifications of sites etc. he remained, as usual, largely silent. As R rightly remarks: "The preservation of Assos on paper, thanks to Bacon's, Clarke's and Koldewey's meticulous work, illustrates all too clearly that many--perhaps all--of the sites Calvert had excavated could have survived in a similar fashion, had Calvert published more of his work, or had his papers been preserved" (417). It is a saddening conclusion.

Hissarlik continued to attract an ever increasing number of tourists--leading to different construction activities at the Dardanelles. Calvert occupied himself with his consular duties, reading archaeology, and overseeing the completion of the catalogue of his (vast) collection of antiquities. The staggering wealth of information which must have been hidden behind these objects,and the many objects he already had sold or donated during his lifetime, were never made public. It died with Calvert.

Some of this information may have at least partly been concealed in Calvert's papers. However, these have, to a large extent, disappeared as well. For the disappearance of Calvert's papers several causes may be adduced: an earthquake that destroyed The Dardanelles in 1912 or a deliberate destruction by Francis Bacon soon after Calvert's death, "to prevent them from being pored over and dishonoured by unfriendly critics" (441). R cannot make a choice between these options (or does not want to do so explicitly). She does, however, remark that Bacon found a number of letters by Schliemann to the Calverts in the attic of their Dardanelles mansion. Those letters were donated to the American School of Classical Studies at Athens and they were the basis of the Schliemann archives at Athens. The letters also showed how much Schliemann really owed to Calvert: moreover they underline the relative correctness of the title of R's book. The book itself, however, makes unmistakably clear that there was no question of a real partnership, let alone mutual affection, between Schliemann and Calvert.

Schliemann was a complicated person, who--apparently effortlessly--always succeeded to make himself the focus of attention. That he in doing so did not always follow the straight and narrow path of truth, has already been demonstrated frequently.1 In the case of his activities in the Troad, the main victim of his scheme was Frank Calvert because of his knowledge and connections. On the other hand, Calvert also needed Schliemann because of his financial means and therefore probably accepted more from him than he would have tolerated from anyone else. Though R occasionally does pay attention to this mutual interdependency, this factor remains underexposed. Nevertheless, R has written a very accessible biography of Calvert, this 'dilettante' (no disrespect intended, on the contrary!), amply quoting from his preserved correspondence or other papers. It is only regrettable that she shows herself perhaps occasionally too biased: Schliemann certainly was not of the material saints are made of, but neither was Calvert. Sometimes R appears to forget that and may be accused of identifying herself too much with the object of her investigation, looking to blame Schliemann for every mishap occurring to Calvert.

Having stated this, this leaves unimpeded that the book under review is an essential asset for all those interested in the historiography of scholarship in the Troad, notably regarding the excavations of Hissarlik (and regardless of the fact whether we call that site 'Troy' rightly or not). The book is, over all, well produced and contains very few typos (e.g. on p. 361, Ezra Thyer (1866-2925)). There are some elements I am less enthusiastic about: first (a pet topic of mine), the use of endnotes instead of footnotes; second: the quality of the paper used for the reproduction of the photographs makes looks to the eye like that of books produced in Eastern Europe during the seventies and eighties of the twentieth century. Certainly this book deserves better, even if the quality of the pictures themselves would have been rather poor (now that issue can hardly be judged). A minor point of discontent is that R writes throughout the book Hissarlik with a dot on the final 'i' instead of an 'i' without a dot (as I know the place), but that may be either a consequence of the chosen font or a personal preference. A comparable point of attention is her use of the double 's' in the name of the place: Hissarlik both occurs with single and double 's', and there appears not to be a unanimous preference or rule (and from the presented facsimiles I cannot read the form Calvert normally used). Such trivialities, however, do not detract from the fact that R has written an important book that generally reads very easily. The presence of some of Calvert's contributions to science--some for the first time published in their original language--adds to this value.


1. See, e.g., W.M. Calder III, 1972, 'Schliemann on Schliemann: A Study in the Use of Sources', GRBS 13(1972), 335-353; W.M Calder III and D.A. Traill, Myth, Scandal and History. The Heinrich Schliemann Controversy and a First Edition of the Mycenaean Diary, Detroit 1986; D.A. Traill, 'Schliemann's Mendacity: Fire and Fever in California', CJ 74(1979), 348-355; D.A. Traill, Schliemann of Troy: Treasure and Deceit, London and New York 1995: this book is a fairly balanced biography on Schliemann and his methods and really fascinating reading. (read complete article)


Louis Robert, Choix d'écrits. Édité par Denis Rousset avec la collaboration de Philippe Gauthier et Ivana Savalli-Lestrade. Paris: Les Belles Lettres, 2007. Pp. 799; figs. 77. ISBN 978-2-251-38083-4. €85.00.
Reviewed by Thomas Corsten, University of Heidelberg ( and University of Oxford (

[A list of the publications reprinted in this volume is given at the end.]

Louis Robert (1904-1985), the greatest Greek epigraphist not only in the past but also for the foreseeable future, has--together with his wife Jeanne--left an awe-inspiring oeuvre of numerous books, innumerable articles and the Bulletin épigraphique from 1938 to 1984 of about 100 pages each year. Some of his books have been reprinted, with or without addenda, and a huge collection of his articles has appeared between 1969 and 1990, supplemented by a reprint of his last articles in the Bulletin de correspondance hellénique.1 The book under review is a selection of 24 of his most important articles and shorter publications (including two extracts from books: ch. XV and XVI), and it shows the broad range of subjects which Robert mastered in an unrivalled manner, not only in epigraphy. For he was convinced that inscriptions have to be studied in their historical and geographical context in order to be fully exploited and to arrive at sound conclusions. This was the method which he taught--and preached--throughout his life, as an academic teacher as well as through his publications. His research was thus not restricted to inscriptions in isolation, but he knew how to use most of the other sources available, especially literature, coins, papyri, and the evidence of historical geography (archaeology was apparently only rarely considered helpful). For this reason, the selected articles are not merely or strictly epigraphic: they rather deal with every kind of evidence a scholar of the ancient world can and will encounter when trying to explain inscriptions or when using them.

The book begins, after a photograph of Robert following the title page, with a short biography by Philippe Gauthier. Then come a note on the book and a bibliography in two parts: first, a complete list of all his publications in chronological order (almost 500 items), and second, a list of his articles in alphabetical order of their place of publication (acts of congresses, collections such as Festschriften, and periodicals). References to reprints are given in the first list, and a complete concordance of Robert's reprinted articles, including Choix, is now available on the web.2 The latter indicates that many of the articles reprinted here have already been reprinted in Robert's Opera Minora Selecta. This may seem strange at first, but the Choix is certainly useful for those (individuals and libraries) who cannot afford their own copy of the seven volumes of Opera Minora Selecta. Moreover, the editors have usefully added translations to most of the inscriptions dealt with and, at the end of some articles, references to other (and not only later) publications by Robert on related matters.

The 24 articles republished here are arranged in five thematic sections: (1) methodology, (2) athletes and contests, (3) institutions and rites, (4) from Asia Minor to the Bactriane, (5) cities, kings, and the Romans. After this, there are 77 plates with photographs and maps, and two indexes (ancient sources, general index). Since we have to do with a reprint of well-known articles, there is no point in evaluating each of them; I will instead restrict myself to give as brief an overview as possible of their contents.

The first section (71-171) consists of three opening speeches given by Robert at epigraphic congresses (ch. I, III, V),3 a chapter about Greek and Roman epigraphy in an introduction to the study of history (ch. II) , an article about personal names and Greek civilisation (ch. IV), and a paper given at the eighth congress of the Association Guillaume Budé in 1968 (ch. VI, which has inadvertently dropped out of the table des matières (797). In the first two chapters he addresses questions of method, which he does in part through the example of Adolf Wilhelm and that of his own teacher, Maurice Holleaux. One of Robert's most important and valuable remarks in this regard and in connection with the definition of an "epigraphist" is that the restoration of incompletely preserved inscriptions is only possible with the help of parallels, and that in order to use those in the right way, a long and profound experience is required (e.g. 76, 79, 104, 107-114). He also rightly emphasizes the important contribution of epigraphy to our knowledge of ancient civilizations, which would be considerably more restricted without the information gained from inscriptions. As an example of a field for which most of the evidence is provided by epigraphical texts, the editors have singled out two of Robert's articles on onomastics (ch. IV and V). They demonstrate that the study of personal names is a subject not to be neglected since its results can have implications which go far beyond onomastics; it is thus not only a histoire des noms, but can (and should) lead to a histoire par les noms (148)--therefore a field in which Robert also took great interest. Finally, in the short chapter VI (157-171) he shows the value of a profound knowledge of topography not only for the field of epigraphy and history, but also for the understanding of antiquity in general.

The section on athletes and contests (173-278) consists of three articles, the last of which was also an opening address (Eighth International Congress of Greek and Latin Epigraphy at Athens 1982). The first one (175-246) deals, however, not with inscriptions on stone, but with epigrams on athletes by the poet Lucillius (1st century AD), preserved in the Anthologia Palatina. This chapter is not only witness to Robert's profound knowledge of Greek literature, but it also indicates the importance of having a sound knowledge of Greek poetry in order to understand and interpret epigrams on stone which are not always easy to tackle--and there are a great number of them.4 On the other hand, epigrams on stone enrich our image of Greek poetry to a great extent. The next chapter (247-266) treats two contests at Rome, and it comprises the editio princeps of an inscription from Delphi where for the first time the Antoninia Pythia in Rome are mentioned. In addition, the article provides a brief introduction to the terminology of Greek contests and their system. This finds a kind of a continuation in the following article, the opening address at Athens (267-278). There, Robert gives a very valuable overview of the expansion of Greek "games" (a term which he avoided and replaced by "concours") in the Hellenistic and Roman periods throughout the Greek world.

In the third section (Institutions et rites, 279-387), four articles on inscriptions concerning administrative procedures and aspects of ancient religion are reprinted (chapters X-XIII). Chapter X (281-298) is the publication of two stelai in the sanctuary of Ares and Athena in the Attic deme of Acharnai, one of which contains a decree about the erection of an altar for the two gods. The second stele bears the texts of two oaths, the ephebic oath and the oath of the Greeks before the battle of Plataiai. Robert's commentary focusses on the problems of epigraphical texts, which have their counterparts in literature, and on the question of forgeries and/or mutual influence between the two genres. The next chapter (XI: 299-314) contains one of the most important and influential articles by Robert: Les juges étrangers dans la cité grecque of 1973. The institution of foreigns judges, arbitrating controversies within a city, differs from that handling quarrels between cities, a fact which was unequivocally established only by Robert; its first instances are known from the late 4th century B.C. in Asia Minor and on the Aegean Islands, from where it spread to mainland Greece in the 2nd century. The article demonstrates again the importance of epigraphy, since this institution is known from only two passages in Greek literature (and these are not very clear), but there are (in Robert's time) about 200 inscriptions. The last two chapters in this section deal with religion, or rather superstition, in that they have funerary curses (XII: 315-356) and amulets (XIII: 357-387) as their subjects, and they are thus witness to the diversity of material with which an epigraphist is confronted. Of these, ch. XII focuses on curses the origin of which he finds in Asia Minor,5 and the first part (360-375) of ch. XIII, devoted to the explanation of the text on a magical gem, is an example not only of Robert's method but also of his wide range of knowledge and the talent of combining different pieces of evidence: by quoting relevant passages of the Bible and by adducing other magical texts as parallels he is able to demonstrate the Jewish influence on this magical text.

As the previous sections demonstrate, Robert was, in terms of geography, far from being restricted to what he is mostly known for, i.e., Asia Minor. That this was nevertheless his favourite area, has resulted in the last two sections containing for the most part important publications on Anatolia. In five of the six articles (one of them in co-authorship with his wife, Jeanne Robert) in section IV (the longest section: 389-565), texts from Asia Minor are commented upon, the majority of them coming from southern parts of the country, Caria and Lycia. The sixth publication ventures even beyond this in that Greek inscriptions from the outer limits of the Greek world, Bactria (roughly the northern part of modern Afghanistan), are dealt with. The section starts with an important article about the persistence of place names in Asia Minor from antiquity through modern times (XIV: 391-428), in which Robert points to the fact that many ancient toponyms are still preserved in a changed form. This is, however, not without possible pitfalls: the place of the settlement can have moved, taking the name with it; the mere, and often only supposed, resemblance of a modern and an ancient toponym is frequently misleading, especially when the Turkish name is common; and, most importantly, the persistence of names applies after all only to a minority of places.

In ch. XV (429-470) is reprinted a chapter of the (re)publication of the inscriptions in the Collection Froehner, in which Robert, after discussing the identification of Theangela in Caria, comments upon three texts from the site which were first edited by M. Rostovtzeff. The first inscription is a treaty between the city of Theangela and the dynast Eupolemos, which is discussed by Robert especially in regard to the identity of Eupolemos, to the historical context, and to the topography of Theangela. Second, a decree of Troizen for a citizen of Theangela. Here, Robert limits his commentary to references to the editio princeps which he corrects briefly in some points. To the commentary on the last inscription, a decree of Theangela, he adds several texts from or mentioning the city or its citizens, which do not appear in the list of inscriptions in Ruge's article in Pauly-Wissowa. This chapter gives a good idea of how Robert worked and how inscriptions are best commented upon and used as historical sources: by comparing (and supplementing, if necessary) them with other texts and by placing them in an historical and geographical context, in order to gain new insights.

We remain in Caria with ch. XVI (471-499; this is only a part of Robert's article in BCH Suppl. I) on an honorific decree from Delos concerning a proxenos from an Antiocheia. This article is a typical piece of Robertian scholarship and method. It is not an exhaustive commentary on each detail of the text but is almost solely concerned with two problems emerging from the honorand's ethnic. First, starting from the ethnic Antiocheus, Robert discusses at great length (472-481) the problems of identifying a city with a dynastic name among the many homonymous cities (such as Antiocheia, Herakleia, Laodikeia etc.). He then goes on to identify the Antiocheia in the Delian inscription with the Carian city of Alabanda and elaborates on the period during which Alabanda was called Antiocheia, using also numismatic evidence and correcting several mistaken ideas on the way. He has thus used the inscription, which has otherwise nothing unusual, as a starting point for a general discussion of two problems with which historians often have to deal.

Next come two further chapters about Asia Minor, this time dealing with Lycia (ch. XVII, 501-518, and XVIII, 519-531). In the first, Robert explains an epigram from Xanthos on the dynast Arbinas (4th cent. BC) who boasts of having conquered three Lycian cities in one month. By making extensive use of the historical geography as well as several travel accounts from the last centuries, he concludes that Arbinas must have resided in and started his conquests from Tlos and not from Kaunos as was believed previously.6 Another, this time early hellenistic, epigram is at the center of the short ch. XVIII. Preserved not on stone but in Stephanus of Byzantium, it honors the Ptolemaic general Neoptolemos, who was not a Pisidian (as was understood so far, starting from a misunderstanding by Stephanus himself) but helped the citizens of Tlos against the Galatians in alliance with Pisidians and Thracians. Stephanus' misinterpretation of the epigram has also induced him --mistakenly--to suppose a second Tlos in Pisidia.

The last chapter in this section (XIX: 533-565) deals with inscriptions from the eastern frontier of the Greek world, Baktriane, found during the French excavations of Ai Khanoum, a city on the Oxus river. Robert publishes two texts, the first of which is a dedication to Hermes and Herakles, the gods of the gymnasium; it was found in a building complex which was identified as such. The other inscription contains the last five of what must have been a long series of principles of the Seven Sages, introduced by an epigram of the dedicant, the philosopher Klearchos of Soloi. These two texts are witness again of the importance of the gymnasium and of philosophy for the hellenization of a formerly 'barbarian' region. And their treatment by Robert demonstrates again his methods as well as his wide and varied knowledge: He takes the name Kineas in the epigram as a starting point of a long and exhaustive examination of its distribution in order to elucidate the origin of this particular Kineas; he then proceeds to a long study of the the life and the philosophy of Klearchos to which this comparatively short inscription can contribute considerably--if one can exploit it as (only?) Robert could.

The last section (V, 567-703), with five items, concerns inscriptions with a wider historical significance, i.e. texts which give insight into the relation between cities, the Hellenistic kings, and finally the Romans. In addition, one article (no. XXIII) is about coins, a field in which Robert was also very knowledgeable.

The first chapter (no. XX, 569-601) treats a decree of Ilion. As a parallel, Robert adduces a papyrus of the same period since both documents concern the same matter, i.e. royal cult (569-601); either one can thus be used to explain the other, and this is what Robert does in a masterly fashion. However, as often, he begins with something else: the inscription was first thought to come from Sigeion, and this presents him with the opportunity to give a brief overview of the evidence for this city and to correct the first few lines of an inscription from there (which has nothing to do with the subject of the article). The chapter provides also a good example of another characteristic of Robert's publications: he can fill pages with parallels--and if it is only to rule most of them out again as not applicable--when restoring a single word in an inscription, as is here the case for lines 31-32 (577-584).

In chapter XXI (604-621) Robert publishes an honorary inscription for Theophanes of Mytilene which was found in Istanbul but must, as he can show, have been transported there in late antiquity. His commentary concentrates on the growing role of benefactors in the Hellenistic period, and he places Theophanes and his honors in the context of similar men of the 1st century B.C.

Chapter XII (623-645) is only a part of an article which appeared in L'Antiquité Classique 35, 1966 (pp. 401-431 of 377-432). Robert republishes an inscription from Aphrodisias which serves him again as an example of how and how not to publish inscriptions by calling attention to conventions of editing and commenting, the prerequisite of which is to understand the text first and to place it in the right context (and, of course, to work from parallels).

The next chapter (XXIII, 647-671) demonstrates that Robert was also a brilliant numismatist--or perhaps rather a brilliant historian who knew how to make the most use of all kinds of sources, including coins. He deals here with coins (and inscriptions) of the Imperial period from Lydia in two paragraphs, the first and longer one of which concerns coin types of Hypaipa. In this context, he studies the cult of Persian Artemis (Anahita) and Persian personal names, both of which survived the end of Persian rule in this region for a long time. He does this by comparing the coins and inscriptions of Hypaipa with those of several other cities in Lydia, especially Hierokaisareia, and concludes that there was not one single cult of Persian Artemis in Lydia, but different manifestations of it in different cities. In the second paragraph, Robert explains the foundation of a festival celebrated at Sardis for the new god Elagabalus, who was introduced by the emperor named after this god.

The last chapter (XXIV, 673-703), about city rivalries in Asia Minor in the Imperial period by way of the example of Nikomedeia and Nikaia in Bithynia, is fundamental for the understanding of civic life and civic pride in the provinces of the East. It is not only important for its conclusions but also--like so many others of Robert's articles--for his method. The basis for the examination of city rivalries are, again, inscriptions, coins, and literature (Dio Chrysostom and Cassius Dio, both natives of Bithynia, and Herodian). As Robert makes quite clear at the end of the article, each of the three genres has its shortcomings which can only be remedied by the help of the others: coins were not minted under every emperor, literature is often full of allusions which can be made understandable for us only with the help of coins and inscriptions, and the preservation of inscriptions is subject to chance. It is in most cases only the combination of all of these which can lead to a reliable reconstruction of past events, and that is what Robert demonstrates brilliantly in this last chapter.

In sum, this book--like each individual publication by Robert--shows clearly the method every epigraphist or, rather, every historian should follow, i.e., to start from the evidence (not from theories), that is from all available sorts of evidence, in this case inscriptions, coins and literature, and from there to move to drawing conclusions. It is true that theories nowadays have, not without reason, been assigned a greater value than in Robert's times (although this was not so long ago), but his oeuvre shows that primary evidence has to be the basis from which to work. There are, however, differences. The corpus of ancient literature hardly grows anymore, but its interpretation can considerably be advanced not only by the application of theories (sometimes rather lofty theories, and one doubts whether in those cases the result has to be considered progress) but by placing it in the context of other kinds of primary sources: inscriptions, coins, papyri (and also archaeological evidence). It is these sources, whose number is still constantly growing, which in this way provide new insights into the ancient world. Robert's Choix d'écrits as well as everything he has written should be compulsory reading for every student and scholar of antiquity--and especially for the many in our times who are busy destroying the foundation on which all serious research is based: the study of ancient documents.

List of reprinted articles:

I. "L'oeuvre d'Ad. Wilhelm. L'épigraphie et ses méthodes." Communication inaugurale au IIe congrès international d'épigraphie grecque et latine Paris 1952, in Actes IIe Congrès Intern. Épigraphie Paris 1952. Paris 1953, 1-20.

II. "Les épigraphies et l'épigraphie grecque et romaine", L'histoire et ses méthodes. Encyclopédie de la Pléiade, Paris 1961, 453-497.

III. "Situation des études classiques." Discours d'introduction au VIe congrès international d'épigraphie grecque et latine Munich 1972, in Bull. Assoc. Guillaume Budé 1973, 167-184.

IV. "Noms de personnes et civilisation grecque. I. Noms de personnes dans Marseille grecque", in Journal des Savants 1968, 197-213.

V. "L'onomastique grecque". Discours d'ouverture au VIIe congrès international d'épigraphie grecque et latine Constantza 1977, in Actes du VIIe Congrès intern. d'épigr. gr. et lat. Constantza 1977. 1979, 31-42.

VI. "Géographie et philologie ou la terre et le papier", in Actes du VIIIe Congrès de l'Association Guillaume Budé 1968. 1969, 67-86.

VII. "Les épigrammes satiriques de Lucillius sur les athlètes. Parodie et réalités", in Entretiens sur l'Antiquité classique, XIV. L'épigramme grecque. 1969, 179-295.

VIII. "Deux concours grecs à Rome", in Comptes rendus Acad. Inscr. 1970, 6-27.

IX. "Les concours grecs." Discours d'ouverture au VIIIe congrès international d'épigraphie grecque et latine Athènes 1982, in Actes du VIIIe Congrès intern. d'épigr. gr. et lat. Athènes 1982. 1984, 35-45.

X. "Inscriptions du dème d'Acharnai", in Études épigraphiques et philologiques 1938, 293-316.

XI. "Les juges étrangers dans la cité grecque", in Xenion. Festschrift für Pan. I. Zepos. 1973, 765-782.

XII. "Malédictions funéraires grecques", in Comptes rendus Acad. Inscr. 1978, 241-289.

XIII. "Amulettes grecques" in Journal des Savants 1981, 3-44.

XIV. (with J. Robert) "La persistance de la toponymie antique dans l'Anatolie", in La toponymie antique. Actes du Colloque de Strasbourg 12-14 juin 1975. 1977, 11-63.

XV. "Inscriptions de Théangéla en Carie", in Collection Froehner I Inscriptions grecques. 1936, 65-101.

XVI. "Sur une proxène d'Antioche de Carie", part of "Sur des inscriptions de Délos", in Bull. Corr. Hell. Supplément I. Études déliennes. 1973, 435-466.

XVII. "Les conquêtes du dynaste lycien Arbinas", in Journal des Savants 1978, 3-34.

XVIII. "Une épigramme hellénistique de Lycie", in Journal des Savants 1983, 241-258.

XIX. "De Delphes à l'Oxus. Inscriptions grecques nouvelles de la Bactriane", in Comptes rendus Acad. Inscr. 1968, 416-457.

XX. "Sur un décret d'Ilion et sur un papyrus concernant des cultes royaux", in Amer. Stud. Papyrology I. Essays in honor of C. B. Welles. 1966, 175-211.

XXI. "Théophane de Mytilène à Constantinople", in Comptes rendus Acad. Inscr. 1969, 42-64.

XXII. "Inscriptions d'Aphrodisias: C. Julius Zoilos", part of "Inscriptions d'Aphrodisias", in L'Antiquité Classique 35, 1966, 401-432.

XXIII. "Monnaies grecques de l'époque impériale", in Revue numismatique 1976, 25-56.

XXIV. "La titulature de Nicée et de Nicomédie. La gloire et la haine", in Harvard Studies in Classical Philology 81, 1977, 1-39.


1. Louis Robert, Opera Minora Selecta, Amsterdam, 1969-1990, and Documents d'Asie Mineure. Paris 1987.


3. These are the Second, Sixth and Seventh International Congress(es) of Greek and Latin Epigraphy (Paris 1952, Munich 1972, and Constanza 1977 respectively).

4. The Greek inscriptions in verse from the East are now conveniently assembled (with German translations) in R. Merkelbach - J. Stauber, Steinepigramme aus dem griechischen Osten. 5 volumes, Stuttgart-Leipzig 1998, Munich 2001-2004.

5. See now J. H. M. Strubbe, Arai Epitymbioi. Imprecations against Desecrators of the Grave in the Greek Epitaphs of Asia Minor. A Catalogue (Inschriften griechischer Städte aus Kleinasien 52, Bonn 1997)

6. Cf., however, W. Tietz, Der Golf von Fethiye. Politische, ethnische und kulturelle Strukturen einer Grenzregion vom Beginn der nachweisbaren Besiedlung bis in die römische Kaiserzeit, Bonn 2003, 93-99, who thinks that Arbinas first ruled Termessos, but after being exiled from there, fled to Daidala and (re)conquered Telmessos and the other cities from there. (read complete article)

Wednesday, January 28, 2009


Jaime Alvar, Romanising Oriental Gods. Myth, Salvation and Ethics in the Cults of Cybele, Isis and Mithras. Translated and Edited by Richard Gordon. Religions in the Graeco-Roman World 165. Leiden: Brill, 2008. Pp. xx, 486. ISBN 9789004132931. €152.00 /$225.00.
Reviewed by Laurent Bricault, Université de Toulouse II-Le Mirail (

En 2001, J. Alvar Ezquerra publiait à Barcelone un ouvrage passé relativement inaperçu intitulé Los misterios. Religiones "orientales" en el Imperio Romano, dont R. Gordon avait déjà rédigé la préface. Le présent volume, traduit et édité par le même Gordon--avec qui il fonda en son temps le prometteur Electronic Journal of Mithraic Studies--, en offre une version élaborée bien plus qu'une simple traduction actualisée, destinée à faire connaître à un plus large public la réflexion menée depuis de longues années par J. Alvar sur certaines des religions à mystères qui connurent un notable succès dans l'Occident romain aux premiers siècles de notre ère.1

Pour l'auteur, durant les trois dernières décennies, entre les études relatives au déclin des cultes gréco-romains classiques et celles portant sur l'émergence du christianisme, on aurait trop souvent sous-estimé le rôle des religions orientales de la tradition cumontienne, qu'il préfère, à l'instar de R. Turcan, qualifier plutôt de cultes gréco-orientaux, un rôle qu'il se propose donc de réévaluer et de remettre à la place qui serait la sienne, à la charnière entre cultes polythéistes classiques et monothéisme chrétien. Cette position est courageuse, en ces temps où la thèse de Franz Cumont, développée voici plus d'un siècle par le savant belge,2 apparaît de plus en plus difficilement recevable, tant sur la forme que sur le fond, car tributaire à la fois d'une vision christiano-centrée de l'histoire des religions très inappropriée et d'une vision colonialiste de l'Orient--et d'ailleurs quel Orient?--qui n'est aujourd'hui plus la nôtre, comme l'ont encore montré de récentes rencontres internationales auxquelles Alvar, Gordon et l'auteur de ces lignes ont d'ailleurs participé.3

Pour ce faire, il a choisi de s'intéresser à trois des cultes les plus importants de cette "catégorie", ceux de Cybèle et Attis, Isis et Sarapis, enfin Mithra, conçus comme appartenant à un même ensemble cohérent, nonobstant leurs nombreuses différences. Une commune sophistication intellectuelle, des mythes fondateurs peu familiers pour ne pas dire étrangers aux sociétés de l'Occident latin, des rituels plus ou moins visibles et parfois étranges, voire un nouveau développement relativement contemporain, lors de la période flavienne, sont pour l'auteur autant d'éléments qui concourrent à en proposer une analyse parallèle, en chapitres successifs, autant que comparée. Ce choix est lui aussi courageux et sans doute plus original qu'il n'y paraît, tant les études mithriaques, métroaques et isiaques ont semblé s'éloigner les unes des autres depuis plusieurs années, les principales enquêtes se concentrant plutôt, et sans doute pas uniquement par facilité comme J. Alvar le suggère avec malice, sur telle ou telle divinité. Cependant, on peut hésiter à suivre l'auteur lorsqu'il expose dans une courte première partie pourquoi la notion de "mystères", lien fondamental entre rite et salut, est centrale pour son étude. L'équation religions gréco-orientales = cultes à mystères, nonobstant certaines convergences lexicales et rituelles, peut apparaître réductrice et inappropriée, voire source de confusion, comme l'auteur le reconnaît lui-même (p. 22 n. 11). On est alors en droit de se poser la question de la pertinence réelle de la "trinité cultuelle" sélectionnée par l'auteur et de son traitement. Si la dimension comparative ne peut qu'apporter beaucoup à notre questionnement sur les cultes du monde antique, dans le cas présent, elle me semble se heurter très vite à une difficulté de taille : la (re)mise en situation des traces de dévotion, leur contextualisation précise en fonction des milieux d'origine et de réception, sociaux et professionnels, ethniques et genrés, conduit à l'impossibilité de traiter la documentation comme un bloc uniforme et lisse, dissolvant le concept de religions orientales, même limitées à trois, dans une multitude de contextes spécifiques, nuancés, quasiment personnels.

Afin de mieux appréhender la réception, les transformations et les influences socio-religieuses de ces cultes sur la société romaine de l'époque impériale, J. Alvar organise sa réflexion autour de trois thèmes, conçus comme des systèmes : les croyances, les valeurs et les rituels de ces trois cultes, qu'il envisage, dans une cinquième et dernière partie, dans leur rapport au christianisme. L'idée maîtresse veut que ces cultes, une fois adaptés à un système religieux qui leur est originellement étranger mais s'avère potentiellement susceptible de les intégrer à des degrés divers, deviennent des éléments à part entière de l'offre religieuse des premiers siècles de notre ère, des religious consumer-goods disponibles sur le marketplace of religions cher à J. North. Romanisés, ils s'avèrent toutefois capables de développements ultérieurs quasi-autonomes, susceptibles à l'occasion de se croiser, comme le montrent les sanctuaires édifiés à l'époque flavienne au sein desquels cohabitent temples d'Isis et de Mater Magna, tel celui découvert voici une décennie à Mainz (Mogontiacum, Germania Sup.). Ces confluences religieuses sont bien moins évidentes, comme le remarque justement J. Alvar, avec Mithra. Ce faisant, ces cultes auraient joué un rôle fondamental dans l'évolution des sensibilités religieuses, passant du statut de sacra peregrina à surveiller de près à celui de défenseurs du monde gréco-latin contre le christianisme en passe de triompher. Une telle analyse n'est pas nouvelle et peut apparaître datée dans un monde anglo-saxon où R. MacMullen et R. L. Fox sont sans doute plus connus que M. Vermaseren et U. Bianchi. L'auteur n'en est pas dupe. L'un des points forts de ce livre est d'ailleurs d'avoir su intégrer ce différentiel historiographique et de proposer une réflexion riche--J. Alvar semble avoir beaucoup lu -, personnelle et finalement à contre-courant de la réflexion actuelle. Ce faisant, on peut là encore douter du bien fondé de cette vision d'une religion hellénistique qui deviendrait moins civique et plus personnelle, moins collective et plus individuelle. Les deux niveaux, à l'échelle de la cité et de l'individu, n'ont-ils pas toujours cohabité depuis que la cité existe et perduré longtemps encore?

Le rappel des différents mythes fondateurs des cultes pris en considération dans l'ouvrage n'est pas inutile lorsque l'on sait, ou croit savoir sur la foi d'une documentation étique qui se résume parfois à la prose d'Apulée, l'importance de la transposition de ces événements mythiques en actes rituels dans le processus de l'initiation; actes rituels que l'initié devait mimer ou jouer pour pouvoir se rapprocher des dieux, sinon s'identifier à eux. Analysant ensuite le développement de ces cultes au sein de l'oikoumenè hellénistique puis romaine, J. Alvar fait une large place, à juste titre, à l'hénothéisme tel que l'ont analysé H. Versnel ou R. Turcan,4 à savoir l'acceptation, dans le sein des croyances personnelles, de la supériorité d'une divinité--Isis, Sarapis, Mithra, Sol, etc.--sur toutes les autres, plutôt que de considérer, à l'instar de nombre de modernes, ces cultes comme des polythéismes aux tendances monothéistes, comme si l'arrivée du christianisme était inévitable, une analyse qui n'est guère de bonne méthode.5 J. Alvar, âgé de vingt ans à la mort de Franco, va même plus loin, n'hésitant pas à considérer que c'est bien plus le christianisme de la Trinité, des saints et des martyrs qui se transforme en polythéisme et non le contraire, reprenant là certains arguments de ces sectes chrétiennes qui s'accusaient respectivement de polythéisme. L'analyse est d'autant plus intéressante que l'enquête à mener doit mettre à contribution un nombre considérable de documents, de nature extrêmement variée et parfois fortement contradictoires, comme si une réponse unique n'était guère possible. Aux essais théoriques et phénoménologiques s'oppose souvent une documentation que d'aucuns esquivent allègrement, tant elle peut ruiner aisément de belles constructions intellectuelles. J. Alvar affronte cette contradiction vite prégnante avec lucidité et honnêteté, hésitant aussi à monter des échafaudages sur des lacunes et des fragments. Il connaît trop bien les sources, mithriaques, métroaques et même isiaques, pour faire fi de cette difficulté. Un autre intérêt de recourir à la documentation de première main est d'échapper au risque de surinterprétation ou de mésinterprétation des sources relatives aux mystères et aux perspectives eschatologiques (salutifère comme sotériologique) délivrées par ces cultes, trop souvent lus à travers le prisme déformant de perceptions sinon de conceptions fortement teintées de christianisme. Mais cette démarche hautement respectable ne doit pas s'arrêter en chemin et il faut absolument s'interroger aussi sur ce qui distingue le succès de cultes originaires d'Iran, d'Anatolie ou d'Égypte, à l'époque hellénistique et à l'époque romaine, dans le monde grec, dans l'empire romain mais aussi sur leurs terres d'origine (la Selbstverständnis, trop souvent négligée), au risque de transformer les cas particuliers de Rome ou de la Péninsule Ibérique en une généralité qu'ils ne sont pas. Délos, Ostie et son port montrent bien qu'il existe divers niveaux de pénétration et de visibilité de ces cultes, diverses stratégies d'appropriation aussi qu'il importe de différencier avec précision et méthode. S'il est nécessaire de s'interroger sur les contextes multiculturels que peuvent représenter Athènes, Délos ou Rome, il ne faut pas négliger pour autant les micro-contextes locaux, quels qu'ils soient, révélateurs d'une religiosité bien différente, ancrée dans des paramètres identitaires ancestraux et traditionnels qui leurs sont propres, mais susceptible d'évoluer elle aussi, quoique sans doute différemment d'un territoire à un autre, d'un moment à un autre.

Ceci étant, comme le rappelle J. Alvar en quelques très bonnes pages, bien plus que les divinités classiques, Isis, Sarapis, Cybèle ou Mithra apparaissent comme maîtres de l'ordre cosmique des choses, de l'au-delà et même du destin, protecteurs des destinées individuelles, capables de sauver les humains des naufrages et de la maladie. Tous--à l'exception de Sarapis, la fonction étant réservée à Osiris--ont su également assurer leurs fidèles de leur bienveillance lorsqu'il s'est agi pour eux de quitter le monde des vivants et leur promettre une immortalité bienheureuse, comme l'atteste le livre XI des Métamorphoses d'Apulée. Dans ce cadre, l'initiation, qui résulte d'un appel de la divinité et néces¬site des épreuves, apparaît comme le moyen pour le myste, de son vivant, d'accéder à une vie nouvelle, à un état privilégié d'union à la divinité. Cette nouvelle vie, baignée par la grâce divine, est placée sous la protection du dieu. En échange, l'initié est soumis à des obligations d'obéissance, de piété et de pureté, qui lui ouvrent à l'occasion la porte de certains sacerdoces, une place privilégiée au sein du culte qui s'accompagne de la connaissance de la signification profonde des mythes et des dieux. Indéniablement, ces épreuves individuelles, même si elles ne sont sans doute pas individualisées, révèlent une composante plus personnelle, plus intime du lien unissant homme et divinité. Mais les cultes en question sont-ils réservés aux seuls initiés? Sans doute pas et, outre l'initiation, d'autres actes liturgiques, rituels, souvent collectifs, participent à l'établissement de ce lien : le taurobole, le criobole, les banquets sacrés, la prière, le chant ou la danse, sans oublier l'incubation. Et l'on peut se demander alors dans quelle mesure la mystique était réellement une forme supérieure de religiosité pour les Anciens, et non une vue de l'esprit des historiens occidentaux des siècles passés.

Mais les cultes gréco-orientaux offrent certainement encore plus que cela. J. Alvar a très certainement raison lorsqu'il écrit que les individus ne pouvant exprimer leur adhésion à la romanité à travers les cultes civiques traditionnels ont cherché dans ces cultes étrangers désormais romanisés un moyen d'affirmer leurs prétentions sociales. Les exemples ne manquent pas et concernent, ce qui n'est pas pour surprendre, assez souvent des personnes d'origine servile qui, bien que parvenues, grâce au commerce le plus souvent, à une certaine aisance financière, ne peuvent, par l'intermédiaire de la religion civique, participer de manière active à la vie de la communauté ni même avoir le simple sentiment d'être membre à part entière de cette communauté. Dans ces conditions, elles se tournent vers nos divinités (Isis ou Cybèle pour les femmes, les esclaves et les affranchis, Mithra pour les hommes et les militaires, même si une telle répartition peut apparaître schématique), accueillantes pour tous ceux qui se sentaient exclus des cultes civiques et, en même temps, protégées par le pouvoir impérial. Le fidèle, qui vit dans un monde où les croyances sont fondamentalement pragmatiques, et qui, dans son rapport aux dieux, attend le plus souvent du concret, y trouve un temps son compte.

Dans ce contexte, les cultes gréco-orientaux ont fonctionné longtemps en termes de complémentarité et de supplémentarité, puisant dans le Zeitgeist de quoi se nourrir et se développer, selon une logique sommative en vertu de laquelle des éléments de nature et d'origine très variées pouvaient cohabiter, interagir voire fusionner. Le christianisme primitif n'a pas fonctionné autrement, même si beaucoup ont du mal à l'admettre, avant que les uns et les autres ne se radicalisent progressivement et que le curseur ne se déplace de la cohabitation vers la concurrence, la comparaison devenant un instrument de différenciation davantage que de dialogue et de rapprochement. C'est dans ce cadre que naissent la célèbre théorie de "l'imitation diabolique", en même temps que les discours dogmatiques qui conduiront à la disparition progressive des polythéismes traditionnels du monde méditerranéen.

Une quinzaine de planches, plusieurs index complètent le volume, ainsi qu'une bibliographie très dense de plus de vingt pages, qui pose toutefois quelques problèmes. Outre les traditionnels titres que l'on aurait aimé y trouver mais qui n'y figurent pas--peut-on traiter des mystères sans jamais citer le toujours très utile recueil Mystères et syncrétismes, Études d'Histoire des Religions, 2 (Strasbourg, 1975), avec l'étude de F. Dunand, "Les mystères égyptiens aux époques hellénistique et romaine", 11-62, proposer plusieurs pages sur la Sérapeum d'Alexandrie sans utiliser la dissertation de M. Sabottka, Das Serapeum in Alexandria (Berlin, 1985), désormais publiée par l'IFAO comme tome 16 des Études Alexandrines (Le Caire, 2008), réfléchir sur la religion romaine sans jamais citer les travaux de J. Scheid, etc. -, on peut se demander si certains titres qui s'y trouvent n'auraient pas pu être davantage utilisés. Ainsi, il paraît délicat d'évoquer la naissance du Sarapis gréco-romain en se référant encore au Ptolemaic Alexandria de P. Fraser et d'ignorer l'étude fondamentale de P. Borgeaud et Y. Volokhine, pourtant citée p. 427 dans la bibliographie, ou encore le dernier ouvrage de M. Malaise, cité lui aussi p. 436.6 On reste également à l'occasion dubitatif devant la pertinence des références utilisées, parfois terriblement datées : les pages sur la première diffusion isiaque négligent les travaux de la dernière décennie mais s'appuient sur T. Brady, cité Brady 1987 (p. 62 n.113), qui correspond en fait à Brady 1978 (p. 427 dans la bibliographie), mais n'est que la réimpression anastatique d'une étude publiée en 1935!7 On pourrait multiplier les exemples. Plusieurs points de détail mériteraient également d'être revus. Quelques-uns, relevés ici et là, sur les seuls cultes isiaques. P. 61, il est erroné d'écrire qu'à haute époque hellénistique, Sarapis est coiffé du calathos; il porte en règle générale l'atef d'Osiris et ne se pare du calathos que bien plus tard. Sur la même page, il est faux de dire que le couple isiaque apparaît souvent sur les monnaies hellénistiques.8 P. 62, le succès de Sarapis à la cour des Ptolémées doit être considérablement relativisé; c'est un leurre qu'une étude onomastique de W. Clarysse sur les noms théophores donnés aux enfants nés de membres de la cour d'Alexandrie, à paraître, confirmera encore : les noms formés sur celui de Sarapis en sont quasiment absents. P. 179, rien ne permet de dire que le poète Maiistas fut un prêtre. P. 186, Memphis n'est pas dans le Fayoum et l'on connait au moins deux autres versions de l'arétalogie d'Isis, qu'il faut ajouter à la liste donné : l'une de Cassandreia en Macédoine (RICIS Suppl. I, 113/1201), l'autre conservée au Musée de Fetihye (RICIS 306/0201). P. 192, Osiris n'est pas très présent dans les laraires d'Occident, loin de là. P. 296 ss, les considérations sur Isis marine sont à préciser et à revoir.9

Ces quelques remarques de détail n'enlèvent rien à l'intérêt que l'on peut prendre à la lecture de l'effort de J. Alvar, qui se révèle finalement d'une grande richesse et dont le lecteur attentif ne pourra que tirer grand profit.


1. Cf. déjà, "El culto a Isis en Hispania", in La religión romana en Hispania (Madrid 1981), 309-319 ; "El culto de Mitra en Hispania", MHA 5 (1981), 51-72.

2. La première édition des Religions orientales dans le paganisme romain date de 1906 ; l'édition de référence, la 4e, de 1929.

3. C. Bonnet, J. Rüpke et P. Scarpi (éds), Religions orientales--culti misterici. Neue Perspektiven--nouvelles perspectives--prospettive nuove (Stuttgart, 2006); C. Bonnet, S. Ribichini et D. Steuernagel (éds), Religioni in contatto nel Mediterraneo antico. Modalità di diffusione e processi di interferenza, Atti del 3 colloquio su << Le religioni orientali nel mondo greco e romano>>, Loveno di Menaggio (Como), 26-28 maggio 2006, Mediterranea 4 (Pisa, 2008).

4. H.S. Versnel, Inconsistencies in Greek and Roman Religion 1. Ter Unus. Isis, Dionysos, Hermes. Three Studies in Henotheism (Leiden, 1990); R. Turcan, "L'hénothéisme mithriaque", in Mithra et le mithriacisme (Paris, 1993), 145-152.

5. Cf., par exemple, P. Athanassiadi et M. Frede (éds), Pagan Monotheism in Late Antiquity (Oxford, 1999); E. DePalma Digeser, The Making of a Christian Empire. Lactantius and Rome (Ithaca-London, 2000).

6. M. Malaise, Pour une terminologie et une analyse des cultes isiaques (Bruxelles, 2005).

7. T. Brady, The Reception of the Egyptian Cults by the Greeks (330-30 BC), The University of Missouri Studies 10 (Columbia, 1935).

8. Cf. L. Bricault (dir.), Sylloge Nummorum Religionis Isiacae et Sarapiacae (Paris, 2008).

9. Cf. L. Bricault, Isis, dame des flots (Liège, 2006). (read complete article)